There is an unwritten rule amongst West Ham fans that states we must persist in convincing the world that Declan Rice is a very good footballer. Last campaign was Rice’s breakthrough season; helped a large amount by the fact that his best games of the season arguably came when West Ham were being televised – the 1-0 victory over Arsenal immediately comes to mind.
Weaknesses in Declan’s game however, were apparent last season even when he was playing well and were highlighted all the more in England’s 3-1 Nation’s League semi-final defeat to the Netherlands. His inability to control a game of football is where he falls short.
I would go so far as to say that all of Rice’s impressive games last season came when playing beside Mark Noble. His less impressive games when he was picked alongside Pedro Obiang. Neither Rice nor Obiang can dictate a game of football and it was painfully clear last season that without Noble, we do not control football matches.
I am aware that the club captain is something of a divisive figure among Hammers’ fans. Some feel he slows the game too much, doesn’t offer enough going forward, and all the other clichés thrown at players like Mark Noble. The truth is he has entered what I call the “Gareth Barry vortex” in which only a select few people can appreciate the merits of such a player. The kind of player, like Barry or Owen Hargreaves, which become appreciated ten-fold when they are no longer there.
Pellegrini has tried since he took charge of West Ham to dissipate out Noble’s influence on the team. I do not think this is because the Chilean dislikes him as a player but rather because he realises that we need to address life after Noble as quickly as possible.
Transitioning Jack Wilshere into the team as a replacement however does not look like the answer. Obviously an opening day fixture against Manchester City is never ideal and it is harsh to judge a player returning from injury on such a performance but once City got into their stride, the whole West Ham midfield disappeared.
Against Brighton, you would fancy a three of Wilshere, Rice and Manuel Lanzini to dominate the Seasgulls’ midfield two of Dale Stephens and Davy Propper but Wilshere was pulled off by Pelligrini at half-time.
Sometimes the best players are good simply because they make everyone around them better. This is certainly the case with Noble. Yes, Wilshere has a bit more spark but he cannot compare to Mark in terms of his passing, his leadership, his work-ethic and his reading of the game.
Declan Rice will play better if Mark Noble plays, Manuel Lanzini will play better if Mark Noble plays. Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena will play better if Mark Noble Plays. In short, West Ham will play better if Mark Noble plays.
The issue of Mark Noble coming to the end of his career is something that the club seriously needs to address but while he is currently available for selection, he should be selected.